Jonny Williamson talks to Dr Angus Webb, one of several University-based inventors the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub is supporting to turn their research into start-up companies.
The average heavy goods vehicle (HGV) consumes almost £42,000 of fuel every year in the UK, leading haulage operators to exist on extremely tight margins, typically between 1% – 3%.
As a result, though most operators are aware of aerodynamics and how its exploitation may improve fuel efficiency, many don’t have the necessary capital to explore the issue further.
Enter University of Southampton’s Dr Angus Webb. During the course of his PhD, Webb travelled the length of the nation to work with UK athletes prior to the 2012 Olympic Games, especially those involved in water sports.
“We conducted a lot of wind tunnel testing where I learnt a great deal about aerodynamics,” he explains. “By spending so much time on the road, I became acutely aware of the HGV industry and realised that our testing could be employed for a higher purpose.”
The issue, says Webb, is that potential improvements will save operators fuel, but the initial cost may outweigh any future savings.
“The crucial question facing operators is which vehicles should be modified and which shouldn’t. A decision that requires data from each vehicle operating in its real environment being analysed to arrive at an optimised, tailored approach to saving fuel,” explains Webb.
Whether talking about aerodynamics, driver behaviour training, vehicle weight, roof optimisation or another fuel saving improvement, merely implementing a one-size fits all solution and expecting compelling fuel savings is a mistake.
Webb hopes to address this by approaching the problem from a mathematical perspective and developing specific analyses for each potential fuel saving measure. His start-up, Dynamon, combines vehicle data with dynamic modelling and statistics to provide tailored recommendation on those improvements that will help operators make the greatest savings.
Dynamon’s products include the fuel-saving calculator, which allows you to predict, based on vehicle use, the potential future fuel saving of an improvement; and Advanced Telematics, which enables you to accurately measure the effect of a particular improvement on your vehicle.
Webb’s hope is that Dynamon’s service will be very low-cost, with the size of operators benefitting ranging from the largest global haulers right down to the one or two truck family businesses.
The company is already working with Southampton City Council, First Group and Go South Coast, all of which have fitted various fuel saving devices and technologies to their fleets of buses, and Dynamon is providing data analysis.
“We are currently at the interface between prototype and commercial product, so the support the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub is providing is really important. It essentially allows me to dedicate 100% of my time for a year to make this company work. Aside from the funding, the mentoring and networking opportunities are invaluable when starting out in business.”
He concludes: “There’s still so much uncertainty about fuel consumption, with the assumption that addressing or improving it would be too difficult. We are using advanced technology, university-level research, big data, the cloud and high performance computing to ultimately try and make a difference not just nationally, but internationally.”